Tenured professor fired after more than 20 years of teaching

Hannah Sparling and Hannah Sparling

The University’s tenure program may give professors job security and academic freedom, but it does not make them fire-proof.

On Jan. 8, Francis McKenna, a tenured associate professor of political science who taught at the University for more than 20 years, was fired for failure to meet job requirements, according to a statement from Senior Director of Communications Dave Kielmeyer.

“The dismissal related to Dr. McKenna’s performance of his teaching responsibilities and was made in compliance with the University’s Academic Charter,” the statement reads. “As is BGSU’s usual practice, the University will make no further comment on the details of this employment action.”

McKenna was contacted by The BG News, but said he could not comment because of legal reasons.

Neal Jesse, chair of the political science department, said he could not speak about McKenna’s case specifically, but in general tenure does not mean professors cannot be fired. Instead, it means their jobs are no longer probationary.

“Your contract, in essence, is renewed every year [once you’re tenured] as long as you are meeting typical performance requirements,” he said. “You’re not under review.”

For the first six years tenure-track faculty teach at the University, they are reviewed every year on teaching, research and service (either committee work or local community service), said Simon Morgan-Russell, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. In the sixth year, faculty are reviewed for tenure. Those who do not receive tenure are given one more year of contract, but then usually have to leave the University.

At the University, about 65 percent of faculty are on tenure track, Morgan-Russell said. Most prefer it because tenured positions pay more and the teaching load is lighter to allow for research.

Once faculty are tenured they are no longer reviewed annually, Morgan-Russell said, but student evaluations still show if they are upholding their teaching contracts.

“Tenure protects academic freedom, but professors still have to do their jobs,” he said.

Morgan-Russell said professors or instructors who receive bad student evaluations or against whom complaints are made are treated the same regardless of tenure status.

“If a complaint is made, we do investigate it,” he said. “We would do the same investigation for any faculty member whether they are tenured or not.”

Jesse said tenure was originally established to allow professors to take risks in their teaching and research with topics that might be unpopular or controversial.

“Faculty fiercely defend our tenure,” he said. “It allows us to pursue academic freedom. You don’t have to research what they want you to and you don’t have to worry about the findings of your research.

“Tenure helps students because faculty are not afraid to talk about controversial things. You’re not going to lose your job because students didn’t like an experiment.”